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Conservatives Expect to Keep Up Pressure

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (left) and freshman Rep. Steve Southerland are two of the conservatives who banded together in 2011 to pressure Republican leadership on issues such as government spending and debt.

“I think some of that is necessary. To say we want to do away with all the pressure and the heat would go against the proper process. … If you and I agree on everything, one of us isn’t necessary. And I think we’re both necessary. And if we work together and respect each other,” the Conference can “find some common ground,” Southerland said in Philadelphia.

Southerland — who said he does not see as many instances of infighting this year as in 2011, in part because of the maturation of the freshman class — discounted complaints about the effect of intraparty skirmishes.

Throughout the nation’s history, “you [see] great disagreement. … If the American people think [the Founding Fathers] were getting along for the four months they were [in Philadelphia] in 1787, then they haven’t studied it. They haven’t read it. Members walked out, states threatened to leave. You had great disagreement.”

Now “there’s great disagreement in Washington, D.C. Pressure is growing … [and] that gives me comfort to know that our Founding Fathers didn’t create what they created in a perfect utopia. There was dissent,” Southerland added.

But whether that dissent will help Republicans see their agenda through this year remains to be seen, and the first big test could come next month with the payroll tax cut fight.

The 20 conferees will hold their second meeting Wednesday morning and hope to delve into the policy issues to reach some level of consensus about the scope of the committee.

Spurning any opening statements, Members will try to lay out their goals, particularly the length of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance extensions and duration of an adjustment to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements.

However, it remains unclear whether a conference committee deal will garner enough support among conservatives.

Freshman Rep. Dennis Ross, who was critical of leadership’s handling of the payroll tax cut debate last year, said he still has issues with a payroll tax holiday and instead favors a “big picture” approach to tax reform. That means any deal that comes out of the conference committee could lose his vote, he said.

“But in light of the political battles that remain ahead, and the beating that ensued just before Christmas, I think it’s probably prudent that the conferees resolve the issue and we move on,” the Florida Republican said recently. “There’s probably going to be anywhere from 30 to 80 members of the majority that probably won’t support it out of principle. It’s just a philosophical difference. But it’s just an issue that we have to address, and I think a protracted fight over that is not something that we need to have.”

A leadership aide downplayed the implications of continued intramural fighting and insisted leaders are already pursuing a strong conservative agenda.

“Throughout the 112th Congress, Republican leadership has actively sought the input of the leaders of the RSC and will continue to do so” this year, the leadership aide added.

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